Officiating My First Wedding

Certificate of Matrimony

In late April 2007 I posted “You May Now Call Me Reverend Felfoldi“. I ended it cheekily with “I’m available for weddings”.

This past weekend — just over 6 years later — I officiated my first wedding. It had an interesting affect on me, which I’m still trying to formulate. Hence, this atypical non-marathon Ruminations from a Redhead post.

First, let me get this out of the way — this post isn’t going to be about why I got my ordination online from Universal Life Church. This is the first question nearly everyone has asked me — how / where did you get your ordination? — and too often between their snickers (and not the sweet, chocolate-ly kind). Rather, I’m going to talk about what it was like officiating my first wedding, a curious rarity about which I’d think more people would be more interested.

One more thing before we begin — if you are researching for information on officiating your first wedding, skip to the bottom of this post for the entire secular wedding script I assembled. Enjoy.

Preparing for my First Wedding (Officiation)

When my friends asked me in November to officiate their May wedding 6 months later, I quickly started the research process. What was the common wedding format? What would I say? What should type of robe should I wear?! Ultimately, I relied on several key sources of information, without which I’m not sure how I could have prepared for the wedding.

  • Tradition.
  • The Internet.
  • My own personal wedding experience.

I don’t have any particular sources to refer you for the list above; half the experience, honestly, is searching and reading other’s stories. Instead, find a general format you like and spend the rest of the time talking to the bride and groom to better understand their unique needs and preferences.

In total, I had three Skype videoconferences with the Bride and Groom, which supplemented a good number of clarifying emails. Each of these exploratory discussions were fascinating to me. I assumed that the couple would have already figured everything out, that I was simply going to repeat some words from a script revised and refined over decades of wedding ceremonies. By the time many of us reach our late 20′s and early 30′s, we are beginning to memorize some of the Biblical scripture wedding readings like a Now That’s Music Greatest Hits album. But I’m too curious to get away with that. Often the answer to my questions were “That’s a good question; we hadn’t talked about that yet.” Curiosity victory!

And then they would start to talk about it right there, awkward-turtle style.

Perhaps it was voyeuristic of me, but it was fascinating to watch the couple work through these questions together in front of me. It reminded me of my discussions with my bride as we navigated our own wedding planning; I became a bit nostalgic of our Thursday night El Azteca mexican food wedding planning dates.

That being said, ritual and tradition has a place; I made sure that every wedding planning session included the traditional glass of red wine. There is something to be said about adhering to time-tested ritual during important life events. Don’t know what to say about something you have little business in providing advice? Refer to what others have said for decades, perhaps centuries! Traditions were so important to call upon that I even referred to them in the first few lines of the ceremony:

We are gathered here today to participate in a ritual tradition practiced in nearly every culture and creed throughout humanity – albeit in many forms and permutations — the formal declaration and celebration of marriage.

OK, so maybe I was mocking ritual a bit there. Truly, I did turn to rituals, both Christian and Buddhist, to inspire the ceremony. But here is the dirty little secret of rituals (opposed to the very different category of “dirty little secret rituals”) — you don’t have to follow any one exactly. Instead, mix it up, and make the ceremony fit the bride and groom’s personality and wishes.

  • Ask them what they want to be in, and not be in, the ceremony? Is/was there a loved one they wish to include or respect? In my case, the groom had a family member they wished to remember and honor.
  • What diction are they comfortable with — God(s), Spirit, Being, Power? It was surprisingly difficult to craft a ceremony that made no mention of any spirituality; there weren’t many templates from which to start. Instead, I focused on the themes of “impermanence”, “journey”, and “infinite”.
  • What is their story? Working the bride and groom’s story into the ceremony is a satisfying way to stamp their names on the ceremony and ensure it is truly their own. How did they meet? Do they have shared experiences or interests that others know well, and to which you can allude? Because the three-pointer shot of any wedding ceremony is the nervous giggle from a groom and bashful blush of the bride.

Final Thoughts on Officiating a Wedding

So am I a changed man? More so than I thought, but not when, and how, I thought it would.

I read through the ceremony numerous times. I practiced it out loud for my wife (who gave excellent feedback!). Honestly, during the entire process it felt like I was preparing for one of the many plays I acted in decades ago in high school, practicing my pacing, posture, and positioning.

But it was when I finally stood in front of the bride and groom’s family and friends, with the groom to my left and the father walking the bride down the aisle that it hit me — I had been entrusted to serve as the spokesperson for this critical life event. I was their guide; not a spiritual guide, but rather a ritual guide. I was their trusted steward to ensure they made it through this day in one piece.

I was their sherpa.

Ok, so maybe you are thinking I should have realized this way earlier; fair enough. But as I started the ceremony, the words gained absolute heft. The bride and groom looked at me, their eyes dilated with excitement, their knowing looks to each other felt palpable in their proximity. And there I stood – repeating their carefully selected words to their friends and family.

I was the first sound to come forth from the new voice they were just creating. I was the key confidante in this new, cherished creation.

After the ceremony, I felt…good. I don’t know, maybe it was the endorphins from the 18 miles ran earlier that day (that’s a whole other story), but the rest of the evening I felt this immensely fulfilling peace. I had loaned my talents to my friends and they were put to positive use; I was helpful, useful. I felt connected; not necessarily to my friends, but to our shared journey in life.

It wasn’t until the drive back in talking with my wife that it hit me — the ceremony didn’t place any responsibility on some higher power or spirit. There was no quote or word referencing anyone else other than the bride and groom.

Rather, the responsibility of their marital success lay solely on them and their commitment to each other.

Think about that — there is no where for them to hide. If this is going to work, they have to rely on each other. These newlyweds had the effrontery to look the madness of marriage straight in the eyes and courageously say — “bring it”.

That type of gall — that’s just awesome to behold and be part of, and it will change you, indeed.

Secular Wedding Script

You are welcome to use any aspect of the wedding script I developed, which was borrowed heavily from numerous other websites, both religious and secular. I have replaced the name of the newlyweds with “X and Y”, as well as any personal parts that they might be concerned with me posting online.

Call to Order
Welcome friends, families, and honored guests. Please be seated.

We are gathered here today to participate in a ritual tradition practiced in nearly every culture and creed throughout humanity – albeit in many forms and permutations — the formal declaration and celebration of marriage.

Today, X and Y proclaim their love to the world. They have invited each of you to share the public declaration of what has already been united in their hearts — to witness the beginning not of what shall be, but to celebrate and support what already is.

Today, we are invited to gather and rejoice with them as they commit to honor, cherish, and embrace each other, hand in hand, in their journey into the unforeseeable future.

Charge to Couple
All of you are present today because you, in one way or another, have been part of X and Y’s individual journeys. They thank each of you for your own journeys here today to be present in sharing in the joy of this precious moment. On behalf of the bride and groom, a hearty welcome to all.

Today we witness the beginning of a marriage that began with the connection of two nodes on the Internet. Their love has grown exponentially and reached toward the infinite. Innumerable factors have joined them together, adding to both of their lives to create something greater than that which existed before. And now, today X and Y become a set that is natural, sometimes complex, and occasionally irrational, but always real.

Readings
Reading #1

Reading #2

Officiant’s Address
Today, two among us now come together to declare their love and to be united in marriage.

Marriage is a bold step, taken together, into an unknown time and space. It is risking who we are for the sake of who we can be. Yet in marriage two people turn to each other in search of a greater fulfillment than either can achieve alone. Only in revealing themselves fully to one another, with no fear of rejection, but rather with the confidence of sharing their lives with another openly, can such closeness make their love richer and deeper.

Love enshrines and ennobles our brief human experience, providing direction and purpose to an unpredictable world. If life is indeed suffering, then love is its most cherished balm.

The words we say today have no magic or prophetic powers. Rather, these impermanent words are simply a reflection of a reality that already exists in the hearts and minds of these two people.

X and Y, nothing I can say, or nothing you can say to each other, will ensure a long and happy, satisfying and committed marriage. Only your love for one another, and your integrity to make your commitment real, can create a marriage of great beauty and delight.

I humbly offer the words of astrophysicist Carl Sagan, who, I believe, has captured the wonder of love and purpose of marriage. I hope you will keep these words upon your heart and refer to them again:

“The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. Our little planet floats like a mote of dust in the morning sky. All that you see, all that we can see, exploded out of a star billions of years ago, and the particles slowly arranged themselves into living things, including all of us. We are made of star stuff. We are the mechanism by which the universe can comprehend itself. The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth. We should remain grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides. The sum of all our evolution, our thinking and our accomplishments is love. A marriage makes two fractional lives a whole. It gives to two questioning natures a renewed reason for living. It brings a new gladness to the sunshine, a new fragrance to the flowers, a new beauty to the earth, and a new mystery to life.”

Exchanging of Vows & Ring Ceremony
X and Y, remember that no ceremony can create your marriage; only you can do that, through your consent and cooperation. This ceremony simply declares and affirms the choice you have made to stand together as partners.

Remember that love – which is rooted in respect, trust, and acceptance – will be the foundation of your deepening relationship. Learn to appreciate your differences and strive to make the important things matter and to let go of the rest. Keep the vows you take here today, not because of any external authority, but out of a desire to love and be loved by another – and your life together will be joyful.

And now we come to it. Who will go first?

[Play RPS to determine order. Winner goes first.]

vows

The wedding ring is a symbol, in visible form, of the unbroken circle of your love, so that wherever you go, you may always return to your shared life together. May these rings always call to mind the awesome power of your love.

Two people in love cannot live, nor grow, in isolation. Their love is a source of strength with which they may nourish not only each other but also the world around them. And in turn, we, their community of friends and family, have a responsibility to this couple. By our steadfast care, respect, and love, we can support their marriage and the new family they are creating today.

Pronouncement
X and Y, in the presence of your family and friends who have joined you to share this moment of joy, you have declared your deep love and affection for each other. You have stated your wish to be together, always open to a deeper, richer friendship and partnership. You have formed your own union, based on respect and honor.

By the power of your love and commitment, and the authority vested in me, I now pronounce you Husband and Wife!

As many of you know, it is also part of the prescribed rituals of the wedding-industrial complex that the newlyweds now kiss each other in front of an audience. But hey, no pressure.

Presentation of the Couple
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my privilege to present to you for the very first time, Mr. and Mrs. X and Y!

Recessional

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4 thoughts on “Officiating My First Wedding

  1. Thank you so much – I looked everywhere for something that was non-religous and wasn’t gaggingly cheesy/symbolic or stuffy – we’re going to use your ceremony script as a base for our own (modifying it here and there to suit our needs).

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